Advanced Search
Robert Bork
Robert Bork
Slouching Towards Gomorrah:  Modern Liberalism and American Decline
ISBN: 0060987197
Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline
Judge Bork talked about his book, Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, published by Reganbooks. The book criticizes liberalism for leading society away from constraints for the individual without acknowledging that there must be some limits on behaviour. These limits have been set in the past by religion, law and common morality. He said the breakdown of morality was accelerated in the 1960s by student radicals and the failure of the establishment to control them
Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline
Program Air Date: December 4, 1996

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Robert Bork, author of "Slouching Towards Gomorrah," can you remember the first time you thought you might have a book about this subject?
ROBERT BORK, AUTHOR, "SLOUCHING TOWATDS GOMORRAH": Yes. About five or six years ago, after I finished my last book which was about the Constitution, and I was sitting down talking to my publisher about what I should write next. And this came to mind.
LAMB: What's the title mean, "Slouching Towards Gomorrah"?
BORK: Well, it's a play, of course, on the poem by William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming," which is a poem about a society and a culture that are unraveling. And I guess the best known lines are that, “The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passion and intensity,” which kind of reminds you of some aspects of today's culture. And the last line is, “And what rough beast, his hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”

Well, I think our rough beast is decadence and we're slouching not towards Bethlehem but toward Gomorrah.
LAMB: And what's Gomorrah?
BORK: Well, Gomorrah, of course, is a city that God destroyed because of its sinfulness. Sodom was its twin city.
LAMB: Located where?
BORK: In the plains, in the Middle East.
LAMB: When did you get in that New York hotel room and flip on the Access Channel?
BORK: That must have been eight, nine years ago.
LAMB: What'd you see?
BORK: Well, I flipped it on and there was this naked young woman with her body oiled, lying on the ground and writhing around and sort of fondling herself. And as I said in the book, I was riveted by the sociological significance of it all. But what she was doing was advertising prostitution services, and they would tell you what to call, a limousine would pick you up and take you to meet other young ladies of allegedly similar charms.
LAMB: And when you saw it, what did you have you seen it since then, by the way?
LAMB: What was your reaction? What did you want to do about it? Anything?
BORK: No. I just was horrified by it because it didn't occur to me. I don't know what you can do about it. But, of course, you know 20 years ago or so nothing like that could conceivably have been on television.
LAMB: Why do you think it is now?
BORK: I think the constraints on individual behavior have declined dramatically.
LAMB: And why?
BORK: Well, that's the theme of the book, in a way. It's about liberalism; liberalism which was a very valuable thing. I don't you know, I don't say it wasn't throughout our history. But liberalism has always been a movement away from ... that is, away from constraints for the individual in other words, towards individualism.

And the other major thrust of liberalism has been movement towards equality. And individualism, freedom of the individual, was made tolerable, indeed beneficial, so long as some limits on what the individual could do. And those limits were set by religion, by a common morality, by law and they began to break down. They were breaking down very slowly before the 1960s, but they broke down with great acceleration, great rapidity in the 1960s when the student radicals and the so called establishment proved to be hollow and just rolled over.
LAMB: How would you define liberalism?
BORK: Well, I would define it as a movement away from restraints and also a movement towards equality.
LAMB: Where does it come from, though? I mean, you say it's not all bad.
BORK: No. As long as it's under control, it's fine. Where does it come from? I suppose individualism may have started with the ancient Greeks and been working its way through our society in various forms with pauses ever since.
LAMB: You have a footnote, page 32. You say, “In many ways I understand the '60s generation because at that stage of my life I reacted similarly. Suburban middle class life seemed stifling. Dixieland music was my rock 'n' roll, all night partying was my escape, political radicalism my protests.” Where were you then?
BORK: Where did I live?
LAMB: Yes.
BORK: In a small suburb of Pittsburgh called Benaven; had a population of 2,000, a very small school. And I was the only kid there who announced he was a radical.
LAMB: What was a radical then?
BORK: Well, I was at first a socialist. I mean, I believed in socialism. And then I read a book called "The Coming Struggle for Power" by John Strachey, which is a very powerful book if you're 15 years old, as I was, about the inevitability of Communism. Well, I didn't join anything, I mean, of that sort, but I had a sort of a general left orientation, which wasn't appreciated by the school authorities.
LAMB: Where did you get this?
BORK: Out of books.
LAMB: You mean you just read when you were younger? That young?
BORK: Oh, I read a lot. Sure.
LAMB: You became a radical by reading?
BORK: Yeah. Well, I had a teacher who kept introducing me to socialist literature. But when I went further left, he disapproved completely. But I was the editor in chief of the school paper, and they had to bring down the superintendent of schools to stop me from running an editorial about nationalizing industry, which would not have been appreciated in that town.
LAMB: Did you grow up in Pittsburgh?
BORK: Yes.
LAMB: What were your parents doing then?
BORK: My father was in charge of purchasing in large areas for a major steel corporation. My mother, who had been a schoolteacher,stayed at home. In those days, when you got married, you had to abandon teaching.
LAMB: Why was that?
BORK: It was a rule they had. They didn't want any married teachers.
LAMB: At all?
BORK: That's right.
LAMB: Was that nationwide or just in Pittsburgh?
BORK: As far as I know, it was just Pittsburgh, but it may have been wider than that.
LAMB: What was it like growing up in Pittsburgh?
BORK: Smoky. Those were the days when the cars had their headlights on at noon. And it was a fairly parochial town. It had a lot of corporate headquarters and some cultural events, but it was much more parochial than New York or Chicago, for example.
LAMB: Now what's the difference between rock 'n' roll music or Dixieland music and the music of today, in your opinion?
BORK: Well, Dixieland music had real themes to it, had often a very complex musical form. The music of today, a lot of the stuff we're talking about rap seems to be nothing but noise and a beat without any complexity or without any I don't understand why anybody listens to it.
LAMB: You know, when I was growing up, I remember my parents saying about rock 'n' roll is that, “Ooh, that stuff's awful. Why you listening to it?” I mean ...
BORK: Well, I agree with your parents.
LAMB: Well, what's the change, though, from rock 'n' roll to, say, today in the...
BORK: Well, rock 'n' roll still had some melody and I don't think it could express a lot of emotions that the music before that could express. But it still had some melody and some distinction. And the melody gradually dropped out until we just have this rap.
LAMB: You have some lyrics in the book and I'm not going to read them. I'm going to let the audience read them, and I'm sure that someone will get furious with us, but they're on the screen right now. And I assume you don't want to read them.
BORK: I certainly don't.
LAMB: But you've got them in the book and I'm going to shut up for a moment here so that the audience can have a chance to read these and then I'm going to ask you about them. [Graphic on screen] I am a big man (yes I am). And I have a big gun. Got me a big old (expletive) and I, I like to have fun. Held against your forehead, I'll make you suck it. Maybe I'll put a hole in you head...I can reduce it if you want. I can devour. I'm hard as (expletive) steel and I've got the power...shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot. I'm going to come all over you... me and my (expletive) gun, me and my (expletive) gun.
LAMB: And what is this?
BORK: What is that?
LAMB: Yes.
BORK: That's gangsta rap. And I contrast it with how much we've changed, how much our culture has changed. That's a best selling record. I mean, that's not just some weird offshoot. That's a best selling record. And I contrast it with a best selling record of the 1930s, "The Way You Look Tonight," which is a romantic song which idealizes women, compared to that, which degrades them. And that's an enormous change in one lifetime less than one lifetime.
LAMB: Where did you find those lyrics?
BORK: I had a research assistant I didn't know about them. I'd heard there were awful things out there. And I had a research assistant who found them and brought me in several records and a book full of the verses because often you can't hear the verses. Unfortunately, that one I think you can.
LAMB: And why did you decide to print the words in your book?
BORK: I don't know any other way to bring home just how degraded much of popular culture has become or how far we've moved from the romantic music of the '30s and '40s to what we have today, which is about sexual degradation of women, sexual mutilation of women, shooting of policemen and so forth.
LAMB: You also write about movies. Do you see movies yourself?
BORK: Occasionally; not as much as I used to. I tend to rent videos which are of old movies.
LAMB: You write here that, “Car chases ending in flaming crashes, the machine gunning of masses of people, explosions of helicopters, the liberal production of corpses, language previously not heard even in semipolite society” you know, older folks put both of us in that category are always criticized for being outraged about this stuff, but never knowing it or never seeing it and talking about things they don't know nothing about.
BORK: Well, I've seen enough of it. You don't have to see too many massacre scenes to know that something's going wrong out there.
LAMB: Why do you think it sells?
BORK: Well, I think human nature is not human, you know, original sin. People, when the constraints are off, a number of them will enjoy salacious, violent material, depraved material. That's why external constraints on human nature are important.
LAMB: How do you do it, though?
BORK: Well, we used to do it through religion and through middle class morality -- both of which came under heavy attack in the 1960s and who've lost most of their force.
LAMB: I mean, you talk about Vietnam. You say Vietnam is a metaphor.
BORK: Yes.
LAMB: It's not the cause.
BORK: That's right.
LAMB: Why?
BORK: Well, when you look at the student outbreaks in the '60s, a lot of them focused on Vietnam, but I think it was a focus rather than a cause. And the reason I say that is that other countries Italy, Germany and France had equally or more violent student attacks, and those were countries that had nothing to do with Vietnam. So I think it was a generational thing rather than anything specifically American.
LAMB: You even defended the Vietnam War here at some point in the book.
BORK: Well, I don't think maybe we shouldn't have gotten into it, but once you get into it, I think you had to do a better job of fighting it than we did.
LAMB: What impact did the war have on us?
BORK: I think it was a lowering of morale and for a long time it seemed to me I was quite wrong that it was a sign that Communism was going to continue to advance in the world. But then it imploded; it broke up internally rather than because of anything because rather than because of any war we fought.
LAMB: By the way, before I forget, those lyrics I showed earlier were from an outfit called Nine Inch Nails. Did you ever listen to the song itself?
BORK: Oh, yeah. Yeah. People think that gangsta rap is black music. Nine Inch Nails is a white band and 75 percent of this stuff we're talking about, this filth, is sold to white, suburban teen agers.
LAMB: Parents aren't getting into this?
BORK: Well, I think that's another sign of how much constraints have broken down. Parents must know that this stuff is going on and is being played in the house. But apparently they haven't got the moral courage to say, “Get that out of here. You're not going to listen to that.”
LAMB: How...
BORK: They used to do that at one time, but apparently they don't now.
LAMB: How long have you been married?
BORK: Well, I was married 28 years before my wife died, and since then I've been remarried and I've been married for 14 years.
LAMB: And how many children do you have?
BORK: Three.
LAMB: How old are they today?
BORK: I wish you hadn't asked that.
LAMB: And where are they?
BORK: Well, the oldest one is about 42 or 43 and he is in an organization called the White House Writers Group. And they write speeches for they were writers in the administration. And they write speeches for businessmen, do public relations, do focus groups. And they're doing very well. My daughter is working for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And my second son is on the West Coast doing designs and graphics for New York newspapers by modem.
LAMB: So when you were raising those kids, how did you deal with all this stuff? And, I mean, back then there was rock 'n' roll.
BORK: Well, we didn't have it in the house. And to tell you the truth, our concern was more about drugs than it was about rock 'n' roll, although I think rock 'n' roll is a subversive music and in that sense could easily lead to drugs. But we were very firm. There was no question about use your own judgment about those matters. We were very firm about them. And the kids did not use drugs. I mention in there that Irving Kristol was going through Romania back when it was a Communist dictatorship, and he learned that, of course, they banned rock 'n' roll on the grounds it was a subversive music. And it is, but not just of Communist dictatorships. It's subversive of bourgeois culture, too.
LAMB: And when you were raising the kids, how about television and movies and things like that? How did you control that?
BORK: Well, of course, the television and movies weren't that bad. Television wasn't. And we used to watch together things like "The Avengers," if you remember that series.
LAMB: You identify that there are something like 25 talk shows on television. Do you ever watch those?
BORK: You mean the ones in which they have “lesbian nuns from outer space” and that kind of stuff? Yes.
LAMB: Yes?
BORK: No. I've watched a couple of them and I've had my research assistant bring me the news about the others. But you know, I'm not going to I don't think you have to inundate yourself on this stuff to know what's there.
LAMB: By the way, who is your research assistant and how old is he or she?
BORK: Her name is Jennifer Balki Kattarine just had her first child and she's no longer my research associate because the book is done. I don't want to give her age because she may ...
LAMB: No, what I meant by that is she is younger and would...
BORK: Younger than I younger than me?
LAMB: Would she be in that category that this kind of you know, would she be more of a moviegoer and more of a music to listen to?
BORK: Oh, yeah. She doesn't listen to gangsta rap and she doesn't go to movies that are awful, because she's a very sound young woman.
LAMB: How did you work together on this, though? I mean, sounds like she had the dirty deed here.
BORK: Well, that's ... Finally she insisted I listen. You know, she got mad. And oddly enough, we had an intern as well, you know, for two or three months, and we got the records. This young lady was a wonderful young lady, but she'd got the records from her classmates at a Christian college, which surprised me no end.
LAMB: For a long time this is the only non fiction, serious book on the best seller list. I don't mean to imply that the other best non fiction best sellers aren't serious, but they often are how tos or ... Why do you think this has become a best seller?
BORK: I think it's because people are very anxious about what's happening to our culture. They're very anxious about what they see as a moral crisis in our culture. And they think, as I do, that the trend lines are all down. Now in this book I try to go across various aspects of the culture and, of course, there's a lot that's healthy out there. There's a lot that's wholesome out there. But the trends are not good. They're all down. And I think the culture's in a general decline. I think a lot of people sense that. They're very upset about it. They're upset for their children and their grandchildren. And when I go around to a bookstore, for example, and give a talk before signing, I get a lot of feedback of that sort.
LAMB: We covered you at the 92nd Y up in New York City. What kind of an audience was that?
BORK: It was quite a liberal audience. I think they were all probably subscribers to the New York Review of Books.
LAMB: And what does that mean?
BORK: It means they're well they're far more liberal than I am.
LAMB: And what was their reaction to you?
BORK: Well, some of them were all right, but some of them were well, for example, at one point somebody mentioned Ralph Reed and some kind of a threat. And I said, “I know Ralph Reed. He's a reasonable fellow.” They hissed at the suggestion that Ralph Reed was a reasonable fellow. That's the kind of audience it was.
LAMB: What got you totally out of the left and the socialism and all that years ago?
BORK: Well, I think two things: One was two hitches in the Marine Corps. And the Marine Corps brings you face to face with human nature and you realize it is not all that wonderful. It's fine in many respects, but socialism isn't going to work because people aren't going to be socialists. And the other, of course, was I went to the University of Chicago and came across the Chicago economists, the best known of whom, of course, are Milton Friedman and George Stigler, and they destroyed my dreams of socialism right there.
LAMB: When were you in the Marine Corps?
BORK: The end of World War II and again in Korea.
LAMB: And then after that, what did you do? I mean, where was your education, your first degree?
BORK: At University of Chicago. I was one of those kids who was attracted by Robert Hutchins, if you remember Robert Hutchins.
LAMB: President of the university.
BORK: Yes. And the great books curriculum. You know, I must have -- good Lord, how many pieces of Aristotle you know, every course he would start with Aristotle, no matter what it was, of things that exist. “Some exist by nature and some from other causes.” I'll never get that sentence out of my mind.
LAMB: And what got you to the university in the first place? What attracted you to the great books?
BORK: Well, I had thought that would be a good education. I was -- you know, I was an aspiring intellectual. Let's put it that way. As somebody said of the University of Chicago I think it was S.J. Perlman that there hasn't been such a large collection of child neurotics since the Children's Crusades.
LAMB: Any other people we know that you were in school there with?
BORK: I don't know. There were people there at the same time, but I didn't know them. Dave Broder was there at the same time. I didn't know him. I guess there were a number of the people I knew well, I don't think, became widely known to the public.
LAMB: Another Chicago -- associated with the Chicago University was F.A. Hayek over the years. Did you know him and ...
BORK: Yes.
LAMB: ... because I've noticed that over the years we've done these shows that the conservative books almost always mention him.
BORK: Oh, yeah.
LAMB: Why?
BORK: Well, because he's a very profound man mind and very clear and I think conservative. And he convinces you that conservativism is the correct approach. He has written a great deal, all of it very valuable.
LAMB: Where did you go after you got your undergraduate degree at the university?
BORK: I went to the law school at the University of Chicago and I almost became a journalist. But I didn't know any lawyers or journalists, and I had this thought that you had to go to some kind of an advanced school to become either one. So I wrote to Columbia University and said, “Send me an application form.” And they wrote back and said, “We don't recognize the Hutchins degree. If you will go someplace else for two years and study, we'll then send you an application form.” In a fit of pique I said, “Forget it,” and went to law school so that's how close I came to being a journalist.
LAMB: You say in your book that this is a population, a culture lobotomized by TV.
BORK: Did I say that?
LAMB: You did.
BORK: That's a very strong statement.
LAMB: It is. What does that mean?
BORK: I think it means people aren't reading or thinking. I think it means that they're increasingly listen to slogans and sound bites. I think probably the nature of TV entertainment is not only vulgar, filled with bathroom humor which people laugh at, but less and less dramatic content of any of any worth and less and less intellectual content.
LAMB: Why are people choosing that over reading?
BORK: It's easier. A lot of people don't like to read. And I'm afraid we're raising a generation of kids who don't like to read.
LAMB: How many books have you written?
BORK: Oh, just three.
LAMB: And the last one?
BORK: It was called "The Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law."
LAMB: And the one before that?
BORK: That was called "The Antitrust Paradox: A Policy at War With Itself." That was an antitrust policy.
LAMB: Are you surprised that this one has done as well as it's doing?
BORK: Oh, yes. I am. I'm surprised the last one did well, too. But, you know, this has done well, but, I mean, competition with something called the "The Dilbert Principle," which and the last book was in competition with a book called “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" so...
LAMB: You know, you got a lot of attention through the Bork hearings and all that and you now have a word after your name.
BORK: Yeah.
LAMB: “Get Borked.” What is it like to to have when you travel around, do people recognize you all the time?
BORK: Yeah.
LAMB: What do you think of living in this kind of world where everybody knows who you are and ...
BORK: It doesn't bother me. Only the friendly ones come up, so that's, you know, that's fine. There is one thing that is kind of funny and that is well, it happens all the time and best example: I was standing at a bookstore in Chicago. A woman came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. And I turned around and she said, “Sir, we are heeding your warnings.” And I looked a little, you know -- I said, “What warnings?” She said, “You're the surgeon general.” She thought I was Koop. And that happens to me with some frequency.
LAMB: Would you define a whole bunch of words that you use in here? And you use first of all, you use the word “radical” before them. What does radical mean to you?
BORK: It means on a spectrum about whatever we're talking about, it means an extreme.
LAMB: OK. What's radical egalitarianism?
BORK: Well, I think radical egalitarianism is the change, the move to equality was really one of equality of status about legal rights and also equality of opportunity. That gradually became radical egalitarianism, which is an ideal not of equality of opportunity but of equality of results. And you see that in affirmative action, quotas, multiculturalism and so forth. It causes a great deal of stress and polarization on society.
LAMB: Where did this start?
BORK: Well, I guess the ideal of equality of opportunity always has in it the danger that people will look at it and say, “Well, everybody hasn't come out equal so maybe the opportunity really wasn't fair.” Although why they expect everybody to come out equal, I don't know. And then they begin to try to “Well, that must mean the process isn't fair. Then we will now mandate equality of results.” And that's about the best I can do with it. Perhaps it's been suggested that it is kind of a natural outcome of the idealization of democracy. And it might be.
LAMB: “Radical liberalism.”
BORK: Well, that's what I meant. “Radical liberalism” I take to be composed of two strands: radical individualism and radical egalitarianism.
LAMB: Where do you find it in the society right now? If you wanted to go someplace and say, “There it is ...”
BORK: Which, the ...
LAMB: ... “radical liberalism,” where would you find it?
BORK: Oh, all over the place: in the White House, for one thing, but look at popular culture. You'll see radical individualism. You look at the relationship look at affirmative action programs. You'll see it there.
LAMB: What about your old stomping grounds, Yale? How long did you teach there, by the way?
BORK: Oh, when I was I went in '62, left in '81 and had four years off when I was solicitor general.
LAMB: Would you find radical liberalism there?
BORK: Oh, yeah.
LAMB: How much of it? I mean, if you had several hundred professors, how many of them would be radical liberals?
BORK: Oh, I don't know. It doesn't take that many. I mentioned, I guess, it's Morrison's Law in there: 20 percent, 25 percent of a faculty being radical activists is enough to turn the whole department. And you can see it at Yale recently. Remember, one of the Bass brothers gave Yale $20 million to set up a program in Western culture and they couldn't get it set up. And some radical professors were saying Western culture's nothing but the export of imperialism and violence. Well, they finally had to give Bass back the $20 million because they could not establish a program in Western culture.
LAMB: How did you see it when you were there?
BORK: Well, at first it changed. I went there in '62, and I was conservative and everybody else on the faculty was liberal.
LAMB: Everyone else?
BORK: Yes, but, you know, later there came a second one. There were about 40 of us on the faculty, and after all, there were two of us who were conservative.
LAMB: Law school?
BORK: Law school. And they talked about hiring a third, but they were afraid he might turn out to be a conservative, and somebody said he would tip the balance, so there would only be 37 liberals and three conservatives. So they didn't hire him. But it was reasonable. One could argue with the liberals and they'd argue with you, and you could remain friends. And I think that's changed at many universities since then. They've become polarized. And out of the '60s, we got this politics of moral assault: You're not only wrong, you're evil for thinking what you do. It wasn't true when I first went to Yale. I haven't been back there for a long time I don't know if it's true now, but many universities -- clearly true that differences of opinion are more than that. They are fights between good and evil.
LAMB: Who are some of the folks you taught up there that we might know?
BORK: Oh, my.
LAMB: Long list?
BORK: No. Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton. Well, I wouldn't say I taught them. They were in the room well ...
LAMB: Do you remember a relationship you had with them then?
BORK: Oh, I don't think any relationship with them. Robert Reich...
LAMB: Do you remember them by name? I mean, would you have known who they were 20 years later?
BORK: Probably not. I don't think Bill Clinton paid much attention to studies at class. He always was more interested in policy than he was in law. And I got this from some of his classmates that I Robert Reich sat in the front row. I remember him because he talked a great deal. I also had Anita Hill, Jerry Brown. You can see that I had a big impact on students.
LAMB: Would you try at that time to tell them would you try to teach them your thought in that process? I mean, the university criticized professors trying to shove their own philosophies down the students' ...
BORK: Well, I'd teach them my philosophy of constitutional law if I was teaching constitutional law. They were required to know what the law was, because on the examination, I told them, “I don't want you to just give me back my philosophy. You’re supposed to know what the law is and be able to work with the cases,” and the same thing was true of antitrust. I had a philosophy of antitrust which was strikingly at odds with everybody else at the time well, not everybody else, because it came out of Chicago. But I told the students, “Don't feed me back my economics. Show you can play with the cases, because you're lawyers, not economists.” But economics is a good way to analyze business behavior so you know what you're talking about. Since then, I must say that law has moved in the direction of -- antitrust has moved in my direction very substantially. But no, I didn't teach them any personal philosophy.
LAMB: Do you remember Anita Hill?
BORK: Oh, yes.
LAMB: Do you remember I mean, are you surprised at what happened to her and a ...
BORK: No, I didn't really know enough about her to know that. I understand she's just resigned from the University of Oklahoma Law School. I'm not quite clear why, but I understand she has.
LAMB: Is it true did Robert Reich come to work for the Bush administration or no, not the Bush administration, he worked for a Republican administration. Did he work for you?
BORK: Yes, I hired him.
LAMB: What did he do for you?
BORK: Well, I was then solicitor general, and the solicitor general is the officer of he's the top legal officer of the government. I mean, the attorney general has got a massive administrative task. But the solicitor general the government can't appeal a case anywhere from any court without the solicitor general's approval. And furthermore, the solicitor general's office handles the government's arguments in the Supreme Court. Well, Reich did what everybody else did. He wrote memoranda about whether appeals should be allowed. He wrote briefs. And he would argue in the Supreme Court.
LAMB: Did you know what his ideology was or his philosophy when you hired him?
BORK: Well, I suspected it wasn't mine, but I didn't really care so long as he would do the office work, because when I took over the office, it was not exactly a conservative hotbed.
LAMB: When you go back to the school and think about the professors, like 37 to three or whatever, 39 to 1, why is it that more conservatives don't get in the teaching business?
BORK: Well, I think today it's because they remember how terrible it was when they were students. But in general, I think intellectuals are more likely to be liberals than they are likely to be conservatives.
LAMB: Do you know why?
BORK: Well, I think I cite the reason in there that Max Weber gave, the German sociologist, which is that the intellectual is a person by the way, an intellectual is not necessarily someone who is very good at intellectual work, but he's somebody who makes a living by talking and writing or manipulating symbols in other words, journalists, professors, Hollywood. And Weber said that the journalist craves meaning in life, and once religion begins to recede, which gave meaning in life, they look for something else. Well, a kind of Utopianism, Utopian left wing philosophy gives meaning in life. And, of course, we have seen from our first lady talking about the politics of meaning a great deal, it's not clear that she knows exactly what she means and nobody else knows what she means, but it's a yearning for some kind of meaning.
LAMB: This is a quote from your book: "Boredom is a much underrated emotion."
BORK: Sure. People have a very hard time putting up with it and there are various ways of coping with boredom. You know, some of it is to plunge into this popular culture with sex and violence. Another is to engage in radical politics. There are a variety of ways, and another one is drugs there are a variety but Sherlock Holmes, of course, was an example of the man who was bored and took drugs. There are a variety of ways of coping with it, and most of them are not very healthy.
LAMB: All right. Now are you ever bored?
BORK: Only when I'm listening to some speech.
LAMB: If you are bored, what do you do? I mean ...
BORK: I read a lot.
LAMB: If we were to find you reading, what kind of things would we find you reading?
BORK: Well, there's quite a gap. I mean, some of the stuff that I cited here you'd find me reading, which is quite serious literature, non fiction literature. I'm afraid in the evening you might find me reading detective stories.
LAMB: Do you read every night?
BORK: Yed.
LAMB: Do you ever watch television?
BORK: Yed.
LAMB: When you do, what do you watch?
BORK: "Mystery Theater." No, I sometimes move around. I've seen your program a number of times ... "Mystery Theater," "Murder, She Wrote," I'm afraid.
LAMB: What about music? Are you a music listener?
BORK: Not much. Not much. My musical taste sort of is 1940s.
LAMB: You you have this little note in here earlier in the book: “Portable radios became widely available so that youths could choose their music without parental supervision.” When did that happen, do you think?
BORK: That must have been '50s and '60s.
LAMB: Did you have one?
LAMB: Is there a reason why you didn't?
BORK: I didn't care about carrying one around and listening to music.
LAMB: And when did you start noticing that it made a difference?
BORK: Well, there's a variety of factors that led to that '60s generation of radical students and that was merely one. And as a matter of fact, I don't think I noticed that because I wasn't hanging around with those kids. But they began to in describing what formed them, I don't think they mentioned the portable radio, but they mentioned rock 'n' roll and other kinds of music, which was not welcome in their homes, but they could listen to it anywhere now that they had a portable radio.
LAMB: You mentioned something called
BORK: Ah, yes. That's on Internet. That's a category. And they have a variety of things under, which is alternative sex. Particularly horrifying was this, which consists of many of them consist of stories about the kidnapping and mutilation, castration of a 7 year old boy and killing him or the rape of a 6 year old girl by nine men and then slashing her throat. And they even have instructions on the Internet about how...
LAMB: Have you seen them yourself?
BORK: No, no. I don't know how to work the Internet yet.
LAMB: Did your researcher do that?
BORK: Yeah, no, no, I did that research. I found it written up. But they even have instructions about how you lurk outside a girls' school, bundle a 7 year old girl into your van and whether you tell her the end of her ordeal, she's going to be killed or not. I mean, it's really incredible stuff. And I think it's not just depraved, but I think it's an incitement to certain kinds of minds.
LAMB: So what do you do about it?
BORK: Well, if you can, I would censor it. I say when I say “if you can,” there may be a problem with technology. Somebody said technology is on the side of anarchy, and it may be impossible. You know, this stuff comes from all over the world, and they can run it through two or three computers so you don't know where it's coming from. So maybe it would be impossible to censor it, but I think you can try.
LAMB: You have a whole chapter on censorship.
BORK: Yes.
LAMB: Were you surprised that that was the lead out of your book in the news stories ...
LAMB: ... Bob Bork calls for censorship?
BORK: No. No, I know ...
LAMB: And what did you say right away when you read it?
BORK: When I read what?
LAMB: When you started reading those stories? Did you ...
BORK: Well, I knew that no, I knew that that would get people.
LAMB: Why?
BORK: Well, because censorship's has become a dirty word. It's interesting because we lived with censorship in this country for most of our national existence, and until quite recent years when I was a young man practicing law in Chicago, we had movie censorship in Chicago. It wasn't oppressive. Some of the filth we see now was kept out, that's about it. But we don't have to guess about censorship. We've had it in this country, we've lived with it and we know what it's like. And we're going to have to think about it again.
LAMB: Did everyone read this chapter before they wrote about it or they just jumped to the gun?
BORK: I don't know. I've read some reviews that suggested to me they haven't read much of the book at all.
LAMB: How would you do it? I mean, where would you start on censorship?
BORK: The same way you start with any law, you know. Your elected representatives would write a code about what is obscene and can be banned. An executive branch official would then apply the code to a particular instance. And if the person it was applied to felt that the code was too broad or bad or that it had been misapplied, he would go to court and try to get relief. Censorship is no different than other forms of law. It should be democratically made and democratically enforced.
LAMB: What do you think of the V chip?
BORK: The V chip I don't think is going to help a lot. For one thing, a lot of parents aren't going to use it. And for another, I think it will give people who want to make really salacious material or violent material an excuse. They'll say, “Well, we can make it even worse than it is now because people have a V chip and can protect themselves.”
LAMB: But what do you think of the movie rating system?
BORK: As far as I know, it hasn't done any good. Kids say they can get into any movie they want to.
LAMB: In your opinion, is this country going down and is there any chance of saving it?
BORK: Well , you know, I can't predict the future. All I can say is if we continue on the lines we are, I think we'll live in a very coarse, violent, divisive, angry and obscene culture. But it's not necessary that all the trends continue as they have been for a variety of reasons. One is, I think, I don't think many people realize just how bad things are across the entire culture. That's one reason for writing this book and writing about so many aspects of the culture. You know, they read about an outrage in the paper and they say, “Isn't that awful?” Then a week later, they read something else. But if they realize it's a culture wide phenomenon and the decline is everywhere and what the causes for it are, they may begin to resist it. Now when I say “resist it,” I mean resist it in a variety of for example, not across not in a big national sense, but, you know, on your local school board or local public school, in your local church -- many churches have become politicized to the left -- in your faculty departments and so forth. And maybe that kind of resistance by informed people will stop these trends.

The other thing that I think is possibly a hopeful sign are the signs of religious renewal in this country. Whether that will prove to be strong enough and last long enough to restore a better moral sense, I don't know. But the signs are there.
LAMB: You say in your book that this is a secular country and we've had people here that say this is the most religious country in the world. Which is it?
BORK: Secular.
LAMB: What's your...
BORK: Well, yeah, people say 42 percent of people say they go to church every week. It may be, but it doesn't seem to affect their behavior. Now they seem to go to church to be soothed rather than to be given rules to live by, which they don't. The rules aren't much offered because churches have become soft trying to keep up with the culture. Culture's affecting the churches more than churches are affecting the culture. But you can see how for example, the abortion rate is higher among Catholics than it is among Protestants or Jews. I picked that because the church's opposition to abortion absolute opposition is well known, but apparently it is not affecting the behavior of the Catholic congregations. And I think similar examples could be drawn from Protestant churches and Jewish synagogues.
LAMB: In your lifetime, are there periods where you've been more religious than other?
BORK: Oh, yeah.
LAMB: Where are you now?
BORK: On the upswing.
LAMB: When were you the least religious?
BORK: When I was in my radical phase as a kid, you know.
LAMB: But what if you don't mind me asking, what's your religion?
BORK: Well, I was raised as United Presbyterian. I'm not sure my wife is a Catholic and I find that quite attractive in many ways.
LAMB: Your experience about the Supreme Court I mean, how many years has it been now since you had to go through those hearings that we carried?
BORK: Nine.
LAMB: What's the residual for you when you look back on those nine years?
BORK: Well, it was a character building experience. And I think most of the residual is that it makes me when I speak through a book of this sort, people are more aware of who I am, and that's the main effect. I think looking back on it I didn't think so at the time, but looking back on it, I'm probably fortunate I didn't get on the Supreme Court, because if I had, I would be in a permanent minority, complaining all the time about what the majority was doing, which is not exactly the way I want to spend my life.

But you can see that now with Justices Scalia and Thomas. They sit there, dissent, dissent, dissent. And, of course, some of Scalia's dissents are really barn burners. I don't know how they speak to each other after those things that come out. But I'd rather be spending my time reading and writing than I would just complaining about what the majority is doing.
LAMB: You wouldn't have been able to write this book, I guess.
BORK: Oh, no. No, no, I wouldn't have been able to write this book or the prior book.
LAMB: Well, why not?
BORK: Two reasons. One is that judging is a full time occupation, so, you know, I probably wouldn't have had the energy to write the book and I certainly wouldn't have had the time to do the research to write the book or the writing. You know, I've written some of those chapters many times over.
LAMB: We talk a lot about writing here. Where do you write?
BORK: In my office and at home.
LAMB: And where's your office?
BORK: I'm in the American Enterprise Institute and they're over at 1157 T Street.
LAMB: When do you do your best writing?
BORK: On my good days, you know.
LAMB: I mean, what time of day?
BORK: Oh, I have a very irregular schedule.
LAMB: I mean, do you write every day or do you have to feel a certain way before you sit down at the typewriter?
BORK: No. I have to have a project. That's all.
LAMB: But on this book as you went through this book, how did you pace yourself? And when did you do most of the writing?
BORK: Well, I didn't pace myself and I did most of the writing whenever I had free time. Now I was doing other things, too. I was giving talks around the country and I was also doing legal consulting with law firms around cases. But most of my time was spent on the book. It's a little hard for me to say how much time because I didn't keep track of it. I just wrote whenever I could find time.
LAMB: What do you write on?
BORK: Computer.
LAMB: Are you a fast writer, slow writer?
BORK: Well, I'm pretty fast and I touch type, and it comes out pretty fast. Sometimes when you look at it and it looks pretty bad, but you have to go back and fix it, but it's pretty fast.
LAMB: You write a chapter in here on the Supreme Court. You're not very happy with them.
BORK: I'm not very happy with courts in general, not just the Supreme Court.
LAMB: Why not?
BORK: The courts over time have always responded to the dominant class in the society. In the early part of this century and the latter part of the last century, the dominant class was the business class, and the courts were writing conservative and free market principles into the Constitution that are not there. I mean, it was conservative activist courts. Since World War II, the dominant class in this country has become the intellectual class, the people I was talking about before: university professors, journalists, Hollywood, foundation staffs, so on and so forth. And the Supreme Court is - all the courts are responding to that class. In fact, they come out of that class and they respond to it. It's really more important to many judges what the law schools say about them and what The Washington Post and The New York Times say about them than anything else. And they'll begin to they'll begin to move in that direction, which is a leftward direction. That's the reason I think we have to think of some Democratic check on the courts.

By the way, when I spoke of the incentives judges face, if you constantly get praise for one kind of action and criticism for another kind of action, you keep moving in the direction where the praise comes from, even without realizing it. And there was a famous experiment by a professor who taught his students about conditioning, and they decided to try it on him, unbeknownst to him. He was a pacer when he lectured, so as he paced towards the wall with the windows, they would all pay rapt attention and hang and take notes furiously. When he paced the other way, they would begin to lose interest and begin to look at newspapers and so forth. And after about five minutes, they had him pinned to the wall with the windows. And that's the way the incentives work. And I think the same thing happens in a more complex fashion to judges.
LAMB: How long were you on the US Appeals Court here?
BORK: Six years.
LAMB: Did you pay attention to the outside culture when you were I mean, did that affect you, do you think, when you were here?
BORK: No. No, no, I think that I was much more - I had a very firm idea of what a judge's role is and how it differs from that of a legislator. And I was much more like Scalia and Thomas than like the others.
LAMB: Would you write strong opinions at the US Court of Appeals here and then would your fellow judges react to you when you were critical?
BORK: Sometimes. Oh, yeah.
LAMB: Was that hard to take or ...
LAMB: Anybody every say anything to you personally to stop writing these strong things?
BORK: Well, sometimes I remember one judge complaining to me about what I'd said about an opinion which he joined didn't like it much.
LAMB: Do you think there will ever be television in the Supreme Court?
BORK: No. No, television in the Supreme Court would begin to change the behavior of the judges and of the advocates. Justice Souter said that, I think, they had television in the New Hampshire Supreme Court, as I recall, and he said, you know, he'd begin to press a line of questioning and then realize it was on television. He'd pull back. I don't want that to happen. There should be as free a flow of intellectual discourse as possible without somebody worrying about how it's looking on television.
LAMB: Do you change when you're in front of a camera like this than when you're normally speaking to people?
BORK: Well, I mean, I don't usually sit down and have as extended a talk as this. That's right.
LAMB: But, I mean, if you're out making a speech and you know there's a television camera in the room, does that change your ...
BORK: No. In fact, I often forget it, to my regret.
LAMB: I wrote a note here at the top to ask you about. Rush Limbaugh started promoting this book about the day it came on the market. Did that have any impact on sales?
BORK: Well, I can't prove it, but I'm sure it did. I'm sure it had an enormous impact on sales.
LAMB: Did you get feedback on it? I mean, did you hear about that?
BORK: Well, people yeah, well, people would come up to me when I was signing books and they would say, “I heard you on ‘Rush.’” But, you know ...
LAMB: The people that endorse this book are Robert George, Bill Bennett, John Cardinal O'Connor, Senator Chuck Grassley, Ralph Reed, Michael Novak and Gertrude Himmelfarb. Did you have to ask all these people to endorse it?
BORK: I didn't ask any of them. My publisher probably did. In fact, Gertrude Himmelfarb, when I realized she'd been given a copy, I asked her not to endorse it because I felt awkward that that she's a good friend, you know, that she might feel she had to endorse it.
LAMB: Married to Irving Kristol?
BORK: Right. I thought she might feel she had to endorse it because I'm a friend. So I tried to I said, “Please don't consider endorsing it.” But she did, unbeknownst to me.
LAMB: Here comes the Tocqueville question. We ask this all the time because so many books have Alexis de Tocqueville and "Democracy in America" in it. You have a lot of Tocqueville in here. Why?
BORK: He's an enormously astute observer of America and much of what he saw about America, both good and worrisome, came to pass. In the religion thing, for example, in his first volume, he was quite optimistic about religion and its role in America. In the second volume, he was less so. He began to see that culture could affect the content of religion. He began to see that people would pick and choose what they wanted to follow in a church and what they didn't want to follow. And he had a number of observations of that kind which, I think, came to pass and we see today.
LAMB: You find at least in my experience -- you find that people either know a lot about him or nothing about him. When did you ...
BORK: Tocqueville?
LAMB: Yeah. When were you introduced to him?
BORK: Probably in college, but I really haven't paid for many years, I spent all my time working on law or materials related to law, where the result of my education has been sadly neglected. And I had to re educate myself in order to write this book. I don't want to argue about whether I succeeded in re educating myself, but there are a lot of materials in here I just hadn't I hadn't looked at Tocqueville in 20 years.
LAMB: Did you write this book for money or for impact in the society, or both?
BORK: Well, there's a third possibility and I wrote it for my personal satisfaction. I hoped for impact on society and I would hope for some money, but it never occurred to me that this book would become a best seller. And I was pleased when it did, but it didn't occur to me it would.
LAMB: Do you have any sense how many it's going to sell or how many printings you've had so far?
BORK: I think they're up around 14 or 15 printings. That's not as much as it sounds because, you know, they start off with a first printing of 50,000 and after that the other printings are 5,000, 10,000, 5,000, something like that.
LAMB: But a couple hundred thousand books.
BORK: About.
LAMB: Did your other sell anything like that?
BORK: I'm not sure. The first one not the first one, my "Tempting of America" one, I haven't seen the figures for some time. It was in both hardcover and paperback, and for some reason, I think it was around 150,000.
LAMB: When you go out and speak to groups, what do they want to hear from you?
BORK: Jokes.
LAMB: Do you have some?
BORK: Oh, sure. I better.
LAMB: Is there one that always works?
BORK: Sure, there are a number of them, but...
LAMB: Would you like to tell us one?
BORK: No, I can't ruin a joke my joke; otherwise, it'll put me out of business.
LAMB: The last couple minutes what was the spirit of Port Huron?
BORK: Oh, Port Huron was the first gathering 1962, I believe of delegates from a new organization called the Students for a Democratic Society. And they met at Port Huron, which was an AFL CIO camp, and hammered out a manifesto, the Port Huron statement. And you can see in it the seeds of the new left - more than the seeds you can see the new left in it and the kind of radicalism that later broke loose. It's a Utopian document filled with the idea that men are really infinitely perfectible, full of ideas about radical individualism, radical egalitarianism.
LAMB: You said it was an obscure meeting, how did you find it?
BORK: Oh, yeah. No, it was obscure, but then it became when they held it, it was obscure, but then it became the central document of the new left. And you can find it in many books today by new leftists, you know, who are still proud of it. It's a stupefyingly dull document and full of adolescent self confidence and arrogance about their ability to change the world and their superior wisdom about how to change the world and what it should look like.
LAMB: A couple other things. Another word you see a lot in your book is “nihilism” and you say here it was the order of the decade. What is nihilism?
BORK: It is a I think the decision the idea that there is no objective truth, moral or otherwise. And I thought in particular in the chapter on abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia the chapter is called Killing for Convenience. And I think that's nihilism, when you decide that convenience says you kill, there is no principle to stop you, apparently, and I think that's nihilism.
LAMB: Another comment: “Multiculturalism is a lie.” What is multiculturalism? And why is it a lie?
BORK: Well, multiculturalism is a theory that all cultures are equal. And, of course, in the schools there's been an effort to prevent people from assimilating to the dominant American culture and to retain separate cultures, Hispanic or whatever, or black and so forth. It is not true that all cultures are equal. They may be entitled to respect, but we're talking about preparation for success in a complicated society like ours, all cultures are not equal.
LAMB: Some more odds and ends. “Modern liberals try to frighten Americans by saying that religious conservatives, quote, ‘want to impose their morality on others.’ That's palpable foolishness. All participants in politics want to impose on others as much of their morality as possible and no group is more insistent than the liberals."
BORK: That's true. You know, I think liberals have passed endless series of statutes requiring others to behave as they think moral and that's fine. But it's just that when they deny that they're doing that and accuse other people of trying to enact their morality, I think that's just foolishness.
LAMB: John Kenneth Galbraith, the left wing intellectual “Take John Kenneth Galbraith as a prototype, can go on selling defunct ideas for decades. The forces that put the Edsel out of business do not apply to Harvard professors.”
BORK: That's true.
LAMB: Is he a friend of yours.
BORK: No. No, no. No, no, it's just at that point, I was examining this idea that there's an intellectual marketplace for ideas, and the sort of assumption that the best ideas will win. That's not true. The best ideas do not necessarily win. There aren't the disciplines in the intellectual marketplace that there are in the economic marketplace.
LAMB: All right. One more. You went into a friend's office during the Clarence Thomas hearings and you quoted yourself as saying, "Television is showing the end of Western civilization in living color." Why?
BORK: Well, I thought -- well, the fact that our governing process has been reduced to televising internationally an argument about whether people were talking about pubic hair on Coca Cola cans indicated an enormous decline in our standards. And that's why I said it's showing the end of civilization. And my friend said, “Of course it's coming to end.” He said, “But don't worry about it. It'll take a long time. In the meantime, it's possible to live well.”
LAMB: Do you want to tell us who your friend is?
BORK: It was Irving Kristol
LAMB: Here is the cover of the book. And our guest has been Judge Robert H. Bork. "Slouching Towards Gomorrah." We thank you very much for joining us.
BORK: I enjoyed it.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1996. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.